Munster 10 Saracens 26: Champions produce brutally efficient display to seal final spot

Gavin Mairs
Romain Poite awards Chris Wyles decisive try - Rex Features

Saracens march on. This may not have been their most exhilarating of victories but Mark McCall’s side booked their place in their second successive Champions Cup final with a display of huge character and breathtaking resolve to end another remarkable European journey by Munster. 

With a place already secured in the Premiership play-offs, Saracens also kept alive their hopes of a second successive domestic and European double, an achievement only previously secured by the magnificent Leicester Tigers side in 2002. With this sort of power and tactical prowess at their disposal, they will take some stopping. 

Munster have been on an incredible emotional journey since the tragic death of the head coach Anthony Foley last October – this was just their third defeat in 23 games since his passing. 

But while their commitment and intent could not be faulted, the Irish province lacked both the control at fly-half and attacking width, and while Saracens were rattled on several occasions they never appeared close to reaching their breaking point. 

George Kruis shackles fellow British and Irish Lion CJ Stander Credit: PA

That the job was done by the final quarter was a testament to the English  champions’ incredible resolve and defensive prowess. Saracens were able to  field six Lions to Munster’s two – how they missed the presence of the injured Conor Murray – and ultimately it showed. Their half-backs, Duncan Williams and Tyler Bleyendaal could just not match Richard Wigglesworth and Owen Farrell in quality or control. 

“I thought our defence was extraordinary,” said McCall. “They [Munster] started exactly as they would have wanted, and we came away and just conceded three points at that point. 

“We couldn’t really escape our half in the first half but our defence remained good. I thought in the second half we just started to get on top but blew one or two really good chances. We just need to stay patient and persistent as a group and not get frustrated by those things and I thought we did and the pressure eventually told. 

“They kicked the ball a lot, they put our back field under some pressure, and we knew they had some really good guys in the air and that we needed get numbers around the ball. I thought our maul defence was good, but our defence was the big thing. We soaked up a lot of pressure and coped with their attack really well.” 

Owen Farrell was excellent from the tee Credit: Rex

The defining period came in the third quarter, when Saracens were able to pull away with tries by Mako Vunipola and Chris Wyles, while Owen Farrell kept the scoreboard kicking with four penalties and two conversions. 

Munster had dominated possession and had the edge on territory in the first half but their ambitions in attack rarely went beyond one-out runners and using their maul as a siege gun. 

Their problem was that it came up against the immovable force of the Saracens defensive line. It rarely creaked, once McCall’s side had recovered from the blitzkrieg opening by Munster, even when Jackson Wray was sent to the sinbin for a high tackle on Duncan Williams. 

Billy Vunipola revealed the foundation stone of his side's resolve.  "What gets us through is our past experience of losing tight games and  being in situations we didn’t know how to get out of," Vunipola said. "Not  saying we are experienced, but we are willing to fight.  “Also, the relationship we have - it’s an amazing group to be part of. Obviously from the outside, everyone hates us, which we don't really care  about. But if you come in we will give you so much love, you won’t want to  leave."

It was testament to Saracens’ character and resilience that by the interval it was them and not Munster who had chiselled out a lead, with two penalties by Farrell to one by Bleyendaal. 

Munster had attempted to set the tone in the first scrum of the contest. Saracens could not win their own put-in, with Munster forcing the English eight into retreat, and when C J Stander scragged Owen Farrell, Munster were rewarded with a scrum just outside the five-metre line the attack ending with a penalty by Bleyendaal. 

Munster raged on and Saracens looked rattled. Chris Ashton took out Bleyendaal in the air from a challenging kick by Wigglesworth and then, in a rare moment of incisive attacking play, the Saracens scrum-half put down  an inside pass from Sean Maitland when a try looked nailed on. It was a sitter, and he knew it. 

Yet Saracens, if nothing else, are a side who are rarely rattled for long, and despite the frantic Munster opening were able to level the scores with a penalty by Farrell. Then the Premiership side raised their intensity during Wray’s absence and the chinks started to show in the Munster game.

Mako Vunipola's try was a sucker-punch for Munster Credit: Rex

The Vunipola brothers pounced on Munster hooker Niall Scannell to force a penalty. Moments later a brilliant tap-tackle by Farrell on his opposite number Bleyendaal forced Munster to concede a scrum just outside their 22, and within moments of Wray’s return, Farrell knocked over his second  penalty. 

If Munster still had their moments – Simon Zebo took another superb take in the air set to up another attack – it was alarming they could not add to Bleyendaal’s penalty despite appearing to hit Saracens with their most potent firepower. 

The second half started with Munster inflicting memories of Ireland’s defeat over England in the Six Nations, with Peter O’Mahony picking off the line-out throw from his fellow Lion Jamie George. Then a dropped pass by Chris Ashton after Marcelo Bosch had hit the line appeared as profligate as Wigglesworth’s blunder in the first half.

Yet if Munster did not yet know it, it marked the first of three heavyweight shots by Saracens that would eventually take the game away from the Irish side. 

Moments later George Kruis appeared to do all the hard work by brilliantly picking up a ball after a drive by Mako Vunipola only to lose possession as he reached for the line. 

But the England second row made sure when Vunipola drove for the line by adding his considerable ballast to ensure the prop crashed over the line for the game’s only try. 

There was to be no way back for Munster, who sorely missed Conor Murray’s presence. Williams and Bleyendaal could not shake Wigglesworth and Farrell’s control, and when O’Mahony was forced off for a head-injury assessment, Saracens tightened their grip. 

Bleyendaal missed a relatively simple penalty attempt before a third by Farrell took the game 13 points beyond Munster, but there was still time for a coup de grâce when Munster’s final charge culminated in a breakaway try for Chris Wyles, who gathered Farrell’s chip ahead superbly from Zebo. 

A late try by Stander did little to ease Munster’s disappointment; this was Saracens’ day.

Scoring sequence 

3-0, Bleyendaal pen, 3-3, Farrell pen; 3-6 Farrell pen; 3-11, M Vunipola try; 3-13, Farrell con; 3-16, Farrell pen; 3-21, Wyles try, 3-23, Farrell con; 3-26 Farrell pen, 8-26, Stander try; 10-26, Keatley con;  

Munster

S Zebo; A Conway, J Taute, R Scannell, K Earls (D Sweetnam 63); T Bleyendall (I Keatley 71), D Williams; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 55), N Scannell (R Marshall 60), J Ryan (S Archer 63), D Ryan, B Holland, P O’Mahony (D O’Callaghan 52), T O’Donnell (J Deysel 51), CJ Stander.

Saracens

A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch (A Lozoswki 74), B Barritt, S Maitland (C Wyles 62); O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (B Spencer 72); M Vunipola, J George (S Brits 51), V Koch, M Itoje (J Hamilton 75), G Kruis, M Rhodes, J Wray (S Burger 55), B Vunipola.

Yellow cards: J Wray

Referee: R Poite (FFR)

5:14PM

Man of the match

"We knew Munster would come out blazing in the first half."

Vincent Koch speaks of how Saracens is a "family" that stayed tight against Munster's muscle.

Credit: Rex

 The Saracens tighthead was immense.

5:11PM

Money shot

Credit: Rex

Here is the moment Saracens sealed their passage to the final at Murrayfield, Chris Wyles with the all-important try.

5:08PM

Full-time | Munster 10-26 Saracens

There is time for the restart and Munster spread to ball to either wing, but the game ends when Wyles snaffles a Zebo cross-kick and Spencer boots into touch.

5:06PM

try | Munster 10-26 Saracens

Stander shunts over and Bleyendaal nails the conversion. It's going to be too little, though.

5:06PM

79 mins

Burger has conceded a penalty for handling in the ruck, though. Munster tap and go in search of a consolation try...

5:05PM

78 mins

Munster pressurise the Saracens scrum, but cannot force a turnover as Ben Spencer clears things up.

5:03PM

76 mins

Brian O'Driscoll has given the official man of the match to Vincent Koch. Spot on.

5:03PM

75 mins

A defiant Munster break away through Saili but Brits explodes into Marshall and Conway spills in the tackle.

5:01PM

75 mins

A couple more changes now. Jim Hamilton replaces Maro Itoje and Alex Lozowski is on for Marcelo Bosch.

5:01PM

Penalty | Munster 3-26 Saracens | 75 minutes

Farrell kicks, picks up his tee and pumps the air. 

5:00PM

74 mins

There is another midfield carry from Billy Vunipola and Munster get offside at the breakdown. Farrell is going to kill this off, if it wasn't dead already.

5:00PM

73 mins

Owen Farrell is disgusted with that first pass from replacement scrum-half Ben Spencer, but Saracens get the lineout after Ashton kicks it against a Munster player.

4:58PM

72 mins

As Farrell clears to touch, Mako Vunipola and Richard Wigglesworth leaves the field. They've both been very good.

4:58PM

71 mins

Brits clears up a scrappy restart and is taken high. Penalty Saracens.

4:57PM

Try | Munster 3-23 Saracens | 70 mins

Pure graft. Saracens work the ball left and Farrell pokes a grubber through. Wyles and Zebo collide and Wyles dots down! Game-breaking score. Farrell converts.

4:56PM

69 mins 

Zebo runs it back but spills in the tackle of Burger. Farrell goes down-field and a manic Saracens chase wins a turnover...

4:55PM

68 mins

It's getting slightly stretched. Saili finds some space in the back-field but Billy Vunipola is back there. A shimmy and an offload is remarkably cool in the circumstances and Saracens can clear.

4:54PM

67 mins

Saracens batter Munster back to the 22 and Bleyendaal drops into the pocket for a drop-goal. It comes off the post and Alex Goode clears it up, passing to Chris Wyles, who clears.

4:53PM

66 mins

The Vunipola brothers engulf Stander now...

4:52PM

65 mins

With Rhys Marshall on at hooker, Munster have to scramble to recover the lineout. They are into their phase-play, but Saracens just won't budge.

4:51PM

64 mins

The touch-judge steps in to penalise Michael Rhodes for obstruction and Munster go to the corner...

4:50PM

63 mins

Two more changes for Munster. Keith Earls is replaced by Darren Sweetnam and Stephen Archer is on for John Ryan.

4:49PM

Penalty | Munster 3-16 Saracens | 63 mins

Owen Farrell does not falter as Bleyendaal did.

4:48PM

62 mins

The ball becomes unplayable and it'll be another Saracens scrum. This time Saracens squeeze, and Munster fold. It's that man Mako Vunipola who wins the penalty.

"Clear and obvious, no need to talk," says Poite.

4:46PM

61 mins

Wigglesworth feeds and breaks off into midfield. Saracens are camped on the edge of the Munster 22 now, going through the phases.

4:45PM

61 mins

Saracens' maul comes to the rescue. They win a turnover, so it will be a scrum to the champions.

4:44PM

60 mins 

But Munster pick off Brits' throw on the edge of their 22...

4:44PM

59 mins

Vincent Koch wins another breakdown turnover. The Springbok has been excellent, and this was a muscular counter-ruck. Munster are caught offside and Saracens go to touch.

4:42PM

Miss | Munster 3-13 Saracens | 58 mins

Big error from Bleyendaal, who sends the kickright of the posts.

4:41PM

57 mins

This time Bleyendaal will go for the posts. Big kick.

4:41PM

57 mins

Munster go to the corner. Kruis gets up to spoil the lineout and Itoje makes a robust hit but Schalk Burger, who is on for Jackson Wray, has strayed offside.

4:39PM

56 mins

Maro Itoje gives away a needless penalty at the maul. Bleyendaal goes across-field but Alex Goode takes very well. We'll come back for the penalty.

4:38PM

56 mins

Bosch makes a mistake from the restart, kicking out on the full from just outside the Saracens 22. Threatening lineout for Munster.

4:38PM

55 mins

Ten points is a big deficit to try and recover against Sarancens. Meanwhile Jaco Taute is off. Francis Saili joins the fray for Munster.

4:36PM

Try | Munster 3-13 Saracens

Mako Vunipola is over, burrowing through Keith Earls from two metres out. Owen Farrell nails the conversion.

4:35PM

54 mins

Saracens rumble to within a metre at the resultant lineout maul...

4:35PM

53 mins

James Cronin is on for Munster as Stander brings the ball away from a five-metre scrum. Rhodes gets a robust tackle in, though, and Bleyendaal slices the clerance.

4:33PM

HIA

Peter O'Mahony is heading off for a head injury assessment. Could that be a big moment? Deysel is also down - it was his last-gasp tackle that stopped Kruis.

4:32PM

52 mins

The Munster scrum is monstered and Saracens have the ball inside the Munster 22. George Kruis goes straight through the vacant fringe defence but spills over the line!

4:31PM

51 mins

Another Saracens chance goes begging. A double screen-play in midfield frees up Goode on the right, but Ashton cannot hold the pass.

4:30PM

Replacements 

Schalk Brits is on for Jamie George and Jean Deysel replaces Tommy O'Donnell.

4:29PM

50 mins

Williams errs again, Billy Vunipola cleverly taking the scrum-half's kick with a foot in touch.

4:28PM

49 mins

Williams kicks again from the lineout. Maitland takes this time, and Wigglesworth returns the favour.

4:27PM

48 mins

Itoje is definitely illegal, lifting legs in the middle of the Munster maul. Poite ignores it and Munster come away. Conway recovers a Bleyendaal skier but then Alex Goode second-guesses Duncan Williams and takes an easy mark.

4:25PM

Lineout Munster

We will restart between the Saracens 22 and the 10-metre line.

4:25PM

47 mins

Penalty Munster. This time Mako Vunipola is pinged for "hinging".

4:24PM

46 mins

Kruis takes the lineout but Bosch is man-handled in midfield and the ball goes loose on the next phase. However, Zebo knocks the ball on. It's a scrum to Munster.

4:22PM

45 mins

Michael Rhodes sees a pass bounce off his knee and Zebo hacks to touch.

4:22PM

44 mins

Peter O'Mahony rises to nick the throw...we've seen that before this season.

4:21PM

43 mins

After a re-set Duncan Williams feeds the scrum and Wigglesworth tackles Stander. Duncan Williams kicks into touch on the full though, and Saracens will have a lineout inside the Munster 22.

4:19PM

42 mins

Farrell finds Maitland with a long pass but the winger spills it. Scrum Munster on their 22.

4:19PM

41 mins

Jamie George finds Mike Rhodes and Saracens go into midfield. before bouncing back to the right touchline.

4:18PM

Second half

Bit of rain in the air as Owen Farrell gets us going again. Simon Zebo takes a kick that goes straight down the middle and Bleyendaal clears into touch.

4:17PM

Rope-a-dope

Munster have had 64 per cent of possession, but Saracens have held firm. The players are piling out onto the pitch now for the second period.

4:12PM

This is good

 Munster have the vast majority of fans inside the Aviva.

4:11PM

Big Billy

Credit: Getty Images

There have been nine carries for Billy Vunipola amid the muscular defensive effort from his team.

4:10PM

Match action

Credit: Rex

 Owen Farrell threads a kick past CJ Stander.

4:05PM

Get your kicks

If you've missed the first half, this encapsulates it pretty well...

 

4:03PM

Half-time

Awesome rugby from Saracens to end the half.  kruis collars Duncan Williams and Koch completes the turnover. The ball is spread right and Mako Vunipola - no typo - fires through a kick for Ashton to chase.

Munster just get back in time to force the ball into touch and Poite calls time on a fascinating first period.

4:01PM

39 mins

Saracens have repelled Munster to the 10 metre-line. Their defence has been monstrous. 

4:00PM

38 mins

Munster rumble to the verge of the Saracens 22 before Zebo is driven backwards by Barrit and Marcelo Bosch.

3:59PM

37 mins

And Maro Itoje compounds the error by coming in at the side from the resultant lineout maul after Munster go for touch.

3:58PM

37 mins

This is frantic. Owen Farrell tries to slip a grubber through. It comes bounces back off a Munster player and Farrell tackles Earls without the ball.

3:57PM

36 mins

Duncan Williams scrambles into touch but Billy Vunipola takes  a quick lineout to spark off Saracens again.

3:57PM

35 mins

Billy Vunipola has flicked on beast mode. He surges through the Munster chase from the restart and chips ahead for Ashton to chase.

3:55PM

Penalty | Munster 3-6 Saracens | 34 mins

Amid eerie silence, Farrell hits the ball through the posts.

3:55PM

33 mins

And Vincent Koch ekes out a penalty. David Kilcoyne is pinged by Poite: "Number one, hinging."

3:54PM

Back to 15

Jackson Wray comes back from the touchline after a re-set. Saracens have handled that period brilliantly.

3:53PM

33 mins

Saracens scrum between the Munster 22 and 10-metre line.

3:53PM

32 mins

Now Itoje bursts into full high-fiving mode. Wigglesworth picks up Bleyendaal's grubber and hacks down-field. Then a Farrell tap-tackle forces Bleyendaal to spill. 

3:52PM

31 mins

Munster lineout on the Saracens 10-metre line. Maro Itoje is being a real pest, screaming at each set piece.

3:51PM

30 mins

Saracens are rope-a-doping here with one man in the bin, but they are hanging in there. Richard Wigglesworth clears to halfway now.

3:49PM

29 mins

A good Saracens chase shackles Zebo, who is growing into this game, and Billy Vunipola is back to field another box-kick.

3:48PM

28 mins

Now Rhodes cleans up some messy scrum ball and Saracens scramble clear.

3:48PM

Munster maul

The Irish side edge forward but Michael Rhodes is in there. Saracens hold the drive above the ground and win the turnover.

3:47PM

27 mins

Simon Zebo takes his own up and under before Bleyendaal goes to the corner. Maitland makes a mess of it and Munster have a lineout around 10 metres out.

3:46PM

"Taute! Taute!"

Fascinating to hear Saracens barking at the Munster carriers during that defensive set.

3:45PM

25 mins

And Billy Vunipola gets over the ball to win a vital penalty. Was there a clear release? Romain Poite seemed happy.

3:44PM

24 mins

Saracens are holding firm within their 22, even a man down.

3:43PM

23 mins

To a big roar, Munster go to touch and Tommy O'Donnell breaks away...

3:42PM

Yellow card | 22 mins 

It's another Munster penalty after Jackson Wray tackles Duncan Williams high. Romain Poite lectures the Saracens flanker and send him to the sin bin.

3:40PM

21 mins

Conway goes up to take another high ball and is taken in the air by Maitland. Poite spies a couple of replays, but a penalty is all that is going to come out of this.

3:39PM

20 mins

More box-kicks until Bleyendaal snakes a grubber into touch. Saracens lineout close to their own 10-metre line.

3:37PM

19 mins

Now  Saracens force a turnover and they scramble it away. It was George Kruis with the tackle. Important.

3:37PM

18 mins

The Munster maul rumbles forward but Munster's attack breaks down in midfield. Owen Farrell tries to clear but is scragged and Munster can come again. Breathless.

3:35PM

17 mins

Billy Vunipola takes the restart and barges through a couple of tacklers. Wigglesworth goes high, Munster take and Duncan Williams returns a box-kick of his own.

Billy Vunipola misses the take and Alex Goode has to carry it across the touchline. Munster lineout on the Saracens 22.

3:34PM

Penalty | Munster 3-3 Saracens | 16 mins

It's level. Owen Farrell strikes the kick nicely from just outside the 22.

3:33PM

15 mins

Owen Farrell goes to touch and now Mako Vunipola carries into midfield. Chris Ashton gets his hands on the ball and is tackled by Conway, but the Munster do not roll away quickly enough. Penalty to Saracens.

3:31PM

14 mins

This time Saracens get a nudge on and force a penalty. Excellent shove from from Mako Vunipola and Vincent Koch.

3:30PM

13 mins

The scrum goes down and Poite takes a long look...but orders a re-set. We are on the Sracens 10-metre line by the way.

3:29PM

12 mins

Now Bleyendaal goes to the air. It is weighted nicely, but Andrew Conway spills after making up the ground to challenge Alex Goode. Scrum Saracens.

Seriously compelling so far. 

3:28PM

11 mins

The kick-tennis continues. Simon Zebo soars to take an up-and-under but Duncan Williams pokes a kick through that Alex Goode can gather with ease.

3:27PM

10 mins

First big chance for Saracens. They work the ball left through Alex Goode via a wrap-around play including Billy Vunipola. Sean Maitland is in the clear and tries to find Richard Wigglesworth on his inside but the pass does not go to hand.

3:26PM

9 mins

Maro Itoje is up to spoil Munster's lineout and Owen Farrell thumps down-field.

Simon Zebo clears from the Munster 22 but can only go into touch on his own 10-metre line.

3:25PM

8 mins

Wigglesworth puts up another towering kick and Chris Ashton takes Bleyendaal in the air. There is a bit of needle between Owen Farrell and Keith Earls before Romain Poite orders a penalty to Munster.

3:24PM

7 mins

The restart richochets around until Stander comes away with it. Duncan Williams goes high, but Alex Goode is equal to the task.

3:23PM

Penalty | Munster 3-0 Saracens | 6 mins

Munster are on the board, and  what a start that is.

3:22PM

5 mins

Tommy O'Donnell spills under a gang tackle but we'll come back for a penalty to Munster and Tyler Bleyendaal will have an early, easy settler.

3:22PM

4 mins

This set piece is steady, until Munster splinter Saracens with a big shove. They have penalty advantage but are within five metres after carries from Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander...

3:20PM

3 mins

A couple of re-sets are required. 

You can always hear Jamie George in these situations via the referee mic. "We keep the disicpline" is the hooker's message.

3:19PM

2 min

Wow. Statement of intent from Munster. Their scrum put huge pressure on Saracens and the ball squirts out of the back before Munster force a turnover with a trademark choke tackle. It's a five-metre scrum to Irish province.

3:18PM

1 min

Billy Vunipola takes and Richard Wigglesworth box-kicks down-field from the opening breakdown.

CJ Stander has a trundle as Munster go through the phases and Duncan Williams goes high. Billy Vunipola is back to take the high ball and though Munster pile in, it'll be a Saracens scrum.

3:16PM

Kick-off

With the mist from the obligatory pre-match fireworks rising, Tyler Bleyendaal gets us underway!

3:15PM

Players out

Brad Barritt leads out Saracens with Peter O'Mahony at the front of his line of Munstermen.

It's loud.

3:13PM

5 minutes until kick-off

We await the players. The weather looks fair, so both teams will be able to play with pace if they want to. 

Expect the phrase 'Test match intensity' to be trotted out across the 80 minutes...or longer if we require extra time.

3:09PM

More mind games?

 

3:09PM

10 minutes until kick-off

Ben Kay and Brian O'Driscoll are just taking a look at Saracens' attacking patterns on BT Sport.

Expect decoy lines, pull-back passes and plenty of air-time for both Vunipola brothers. Chris Ashton is an underrated cog in terms of coming off his wing to distribute too. The wide man may be out of favour with England, but he remains a sharp finisher that Mark McCall value highly.

3:05PM

"He'll bring guys with him. He's that type of man."

Nice words from Donncha O'Callaghan on Peter O'Mahony about Lions selection. Munster's  skipper and blindside flanker will certainly be crucial to his province's chances this afternoon.

Credit: Rex

 

3:03PM

Head to heads

Jamie George vs Niall Scannell.

CJ Stander vs Billy Vunipola.

Tyler Bleyendaal vs Owen Farrell.

Simon Zebo vs Alex Goode.

Rory Scannell vs Brad Barritt.

There are compelling individual clashes all over the field today. 

3:01PM

15 minutes until kick-off

Credit: Rex

 "This is definitely going to be more daunting for us than it is for them. They've been here and done it."

That's what Rassie Erasmus has just told BT Sport in his typically affable manner. That's the outward message. I doubt Peter O'Mahony's men will be quite as polite on the pitch.

2:55PM

20 minutes until kick-off 

The referee for today is Romain Poite, by the way.

Here he is with both captains earlier.

 

2:53PM

Analysis

As we've already mentioned, these two teams excel at the unglamorous details - tactical kicking, hungry and coordinated chases, breakdown spoiling, muscle in the tackle area, lineout nous. 

But it is worth having a quick look at a try Munster scored during their group-stage thrashing of Leicester Tigers.

Simon Zebo checks out the Aviva Stadium before kick-off Credit: PA

Any team containing Simon Zebo are going to have a few tricks up their sleeves as well.

2:46PM

Half an hour until kick-off

Saracens have six Lions of their own, and all of them are starting today:

 They come across the Irish Sea absolutely loaded. And they are out to retain their trophy.

2:44PM

Home away from home

Expect serious volume from the Munster supporters...

...as if you needed telling that. 

2:43PM

Deputising

As you can see from the teamsheet below, Rassie Erasmus has opted for a 5-3 split of forwards and backs on the Munster bench, but without a speccialist scrum-half.

Ian Keatley is to fill in if anything untowards happens to starting nine Duncan Williams.

2:39PM

35 minutes until kick-off

The Munster team features two of their three Lions, with CJ Stander and Peter O'Mahony lining up alongside each other in the back row.

Interestingly, a third Lion, scrum-half Conor Murray, has not been named due to a shoulder complaint he picked up playing for Ireland against wales in the Six Nations. He has been at the ground with his boots on...

 ...but we hear there are no sneaky late changes.

2:36PM

Lions' den

Credit: Reuters

You might just have caught that the British and Irish Lions squad for this summer's tour to New Zealand was announced on Wednesday. Clearly, that adds another layer of subplot, not that this game needs one.

2:32PM

Dublin's fair city...

Both England and Wasps have gone down to comprehensive defeats at the Aviva Stadium in the past month. Each time, the visitors have been out-thought and out-fought. 

This week, Saracens scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth told our very own Tom Cary that this game would be different

Credit: Getty Images

 

2:25PM

Destiny vs Dynasty

Good afternoon and welcome to what should be an extremely special Champions Cup semi-final at Dublin's Aviva Stadium.

In the black corner are Saracens, the reigning champions. In the red corner, with swathes of support behind them, are Munster. Both sides are well-drilled, efficient, abrasive outfits who can attack intelligently.

Saracens also added the Premiership title last season are building an outstanding group of players. Munster, who suffered the tragic loss of coach and icon Anthony Foley in October, have been in awesome form themselves. We are in for a titanic match.

2:11PM

Munster v Saracens preview - all you need to know

When and where is the match?

It's on Saturday, April 22, at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. The second semi-final, between Clermont Auvergne and Leinster at Stade Gerland in Lyon, is on Sunday.

What time does it start?

Kick off for Saturday's game is at 3.15pm BST. Sunday's semi starts at 3pm.

What TV channel is it on?

Munster v Saracens is on BT Sport 3 from 2.30pm BST. Or, if you don't have a BT subscription, you can follow all the live action right here with us when this very page turns into our live blog.

Clermont v Leinster is on Sky Sports 3 at 2.30pm.

Team news

Saracens could enter their semi-final at full strength with Mako Vunipola set to return from a knee injury.

The only concern for Saturday's seismic showdown in Dublin is centre Duncan Taylor, who is struggling with a bruised chest bone and will be given until Thursday to prove his fitness.

Saracens rotated their squad for their last-gasp victory over Northampton, resting Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Richard Wigglesworth among others, but will revert to their strongest XV for the trip to the Aviva Stadium.

Director of rugby Mark McCall has confirmed that Vunipola will be restored to the front row after damaging his knee against Harlequins 11 days ago, leaving Taylor is as the only doubt.

"The only new injury that we have is Duncan Taylor. We will give him the next 48 hours to see if he can recover," McCall said. "We hope that it's just a very bad bruise to his sternum and we'll see whether he can tune that around in four or five days."

What are they saying?

Munster wing Simon Zebo

"We have been a core group of players now for a couple of years and we have obviously been through some tough times. But we have a lot of players who are playing well in key positions - and that has been important to our form.

"Obviously the likes of Rassie (Erasmus) and Jack (Nienaber) who have come in and guided us along the way have also helped.

"It is good to be back in the semi-finals in Europe, it is where we expect to be, where we set our standards and hopefully this game on Saturday can help us in achieving those goals. We might not win anything this year but if we give it our best shot we know the fans will be proud."

What are the odds?

Munster to win 13/8

Draw 25/1

Saracens to win 8/11

Clermont to win 4/6

Draw 25/1

Leinster to win 8/5

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